Happy Campers

Happy Campers (2001)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Brad Renfro, Dominique Swain, Emily Bergl, Dominique Swain

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if someone added a heavy dose of melodramatic teen angst to the classic summer camp film ’Meatballs’, and you’ll begin to get an idea of what ’Happy Campers’ is all about. This little oddity comes to us from the Daniel Waters, the writer of ’Heathers’, here making his directorial debut. The action in ’Happy Campers’ takes place at Camp Bleeding Dove. On the first day of camp, we meet the young counselors: Wichita (Brad Renfro), a rebellious anarchist; Wendy (Dominique Swain), a bubbly overachiever; Pixel (James King), a waifish free-spirit; Talia (Emily Bergl), who’s followed Wichita to the camp; Adam (Jordan Bridges); a chauvinist jock; Donald (Justin Long) an obsessive geek; and Jasper (Kermam Malicki-Sanchez), an openly gay dreamer. There is a great deal of sexual tension between this group from the very start, and they find themselves spending more time bickering than paying attention to their charges. Things only get worse when camp director Oberon (Peter Stormare) is incapacitated, leaving the seven young counselors in charge. From that point on, everyone in the camp turns their attention on finding a mate, with the odd attraction between Wendy and Wichita being the main focus of Camp Bleeding Dove.

The material in ’Happy Campers’ fluctuates wildly between typical teen sex movie humor to deep philosophical studies of human relationships. This unfocused feel is also reflected in the narrative, which never really develops a true plot. We simply watch the adventures of the seven counselors from alternating viewpoints. Actually, much of the story is told through voiceovers from the counselors, which sound like journal entries. So, as opposed to following a typical Hollywood storyline, ’Happy Campers’ gives us small snapshots of one summer. The characters are interesting, and there are some good performances here. The film has some very funny lines, but the odd tone of the piece may be disconcerting to some viewers.

’Happy Campers’ gets shipped off to DVD courtesy of New Line Home Video. The film is offered in both a full frame, and an anamorphic widsecreen on the DVD. The widescreen version is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and looks very good. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only the slightest bit of grain in the daytime scenes. The nighttime shots show good contrast and deep blacks. The image is stable, and shows no overt artifacting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track provides clear dialogue, and well-placed surround sound effects, most involving crowd or forest noises. The bass response is minimal, and there is no hissing on the track. There are no extra features on this DVD.